Politics, Gulf Oil Spill - and Avatar

06 May 2010

The Giant Bulldozer from Avatar

The Giant Bulldozer from Avatar

On a momentous day for the UK, the most uncertain General Election for a generation, the big global news has to be the deadly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This tells us about the limits of technology, and how it can pollute not just our natural environment, but our mental environment as well, a concept that was explored in Avatar.

The environment has crept up the agenda for all three main parties, as well as being central to the stance of the Green party. If there is a hung parliament, which many commentators see as quite likely, it may be that Britain's flawed winner-takes-all electoral system will be reformed in a way that different views will be able to be more effective inside the political system, which might well catalyse some of the more important environmental initiatives which have been floating about.

The Aldersgate Group, a high-powered but non-partisan network of pro-environment businesses, launched their latest report

Accelerating the Transition: priorities for the first 100 days of the new government.

They say, "Whichever party wins the election in May must prioritise environmental reform with the same urgency as economic reform. The new report comes just ahead of the General Election and sets out a list of key priorities for the new administration’s first 100 days. Although the three leading parties have taken up the policies of a Green Investment Bank and measures to improve resource efficiency (both covered in the previous Aldersgate reports), none of the manifestos reflect the true depth and rapidity of change that the UK economy must undergo." The report makes five key recommendations:

  • Create the Green Investment Bank immediately: cross-party agreement on the creation of a Green Investment Bank
  • Underpin the price of carbon: the current carbon price is not sufficiently stable, high or credible to stimulate the required investment in low carbon technologies.
  • Simplify company reporting regulations: too many industry bodies and too much red tape are preventing businesses from effectively addressing their carbon emissions and resource usage.
  • Incentivise green industry:develop the Low Carbon Industrial strategy, to build in a supply chain strategy with specific targets for job creation, manufacturing capability and export growth in targeted industries.
  • Publish a national energy efficiency plan: provide support for UK businesses to become world leaders in resource efficient products and services. This will require well designed and effective regulation.

The report was accompanied by a stirring speech by Professor Sir David King, the former Government Chief Scientific adviser, who said that Britain had the opportunity to lead the way in the Second Industrial Revolution - of green technology, as it had in the first Industrial Revolution.

Gulf Oil Spill

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Booms being set up in Louisiana to try to stop contamination by the oil slick

Overshadowing politics, what is looking increasingly like the world's worst oil spill continues to spread out in the Gulf of Mexico. There have been a lot of criticism of BP over this, but drilling for oil in very deep water is at the leading edge of oil technology and inherently dangerous. All technologies have costs and benefits; we should have weighed up whether potentially very damaging projects such as deepwater drilling or the tar sands in Canada, are worth it on a societal basis for the fossil fuels recovered. Surely it is safer to put these massive amounts of resources into decarbonising our environment and ensuring our power supplies are low-carbon, than risking massive destruction on the planet we live on.


Avatar taps into the zeitgeist of our age where a rapacious militaristic corporation steals resources from an indigenous community who are caretakers of their environment, overly blue and hostile though it is. Director James Cameron said of his film, "Commercial entertainment is normally not the platform that's used for this type of communication. Normally, it would be documentary filmmaking, but the problem with documentary film is that they're usually watched by people who already understand the problem, as opposed to a piece of global mass entertainment that will reach everybody. So the attempt with 'Avatar', without being preachy and within the context of a story of adventure and so on, was to deal with these themes and give people not just a kind of intellectual reaction, but a powerful, emotional, cathartic film. "

There are many societies on our planet like the Na'vi, and we should get back in touch with some of the ideals that we have neglected in the search for ever more trinkets. Cameron continues, "The main point is that there is a value-system that they naturally have that has allowed them to live in harmony with nature for a long time and those principles, that wisdom, that spiritual connection to the world, that sense of responsibility to each other, that's the thing that we need to learn. It's a complete reboot of how we see things. "

We need that reboot urgently.

The idyllic planet Pandora

The idyllic planet Pandora from the film Avatar


Aldersgate Group
Latest news on Gulf oil spill
James Cameron: A Complete Reboot of How We See Things

Blog by Julian Jackson

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